Elham Ebrahimi

February 26, 2019

When Elham Ebrahimi, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, peers through a virtual reality visor, she sees more than a game on a digital screen. She sees a technological tool with the potential to revolutionize healthcare training and treatments.

“Everyone wants to change the world or at least have some positive impact on it,” Ebrahimi said. “My dream became tangible when I was able to test my first virtual reality simulation. From that day, I did not stop doing it, because I knew you could improve people’s lives using virtual reality.”

Her current research projects demonstrate what she means. Ebrahimi is collaborating with New Hanover Regional Medical Center on a virtual reality experience designed to prepare children for surgery. She also is working with Lindsey Shroeder, an assistant professor in the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences, to perfect a virtual reality simulation for athletic trainers to enhance their skill in determining heat illness, such as heat exhaustion or the more severe condition of heat stroke. The project includes active involvement from an undergraduate researcher, Jordan Argueta ’19, a senior majoring in computer science.

Athletic training students get hands-on experience detecting heat illness by practicing some skill on a half-size mannequin, Ebrahimi explained, but a classroom setting cannot replicate what it would be like on a field with a sports team practicing, a coach talking and various distractions taking place. Virtual reality programs can more closely simulate the real circumstances that athletic trainers might encounter.

“Students can talk, examine the avatar (virtual patient) and take any necessary actions as required, like taking the avatar’s core temperature, dropping it into an ice pool and even calling 911,” she said.

“Dr. E,” as she is known to her students, is a native of Iran and joined the UNCW faculty in 2018 after earning a Ph.D. in human-centered computing from Clemson University.

“I love teaching, and that is one of the reasons why I picked UNCW,” she said. “I have the opportunity to educate and mentor undergraduate students. I am very keen to teach them teamwork, and I think designing a simulation in virtual reality is one of the best ways to learn as it requires people from different backgrounds to work together.”

-- Andrea Monroe Weaver